Nic Harcourt’s Best New Music Picks: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Gang of Four

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It’s Friday, which means it’s time for Spark’s music expert and iconic L.A. radio DJ Nic Harcourt to weigh in on what new music he’s got on repeat at the moment.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson: I Pity The Country

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a member of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg people, native to southern Ontario. A scholar, poet, novelist and musician, Simpson has emerged as a clear, essential, generational voice for North America’s Indigenous peoples. Her work breaks open the intersections between politics, story, and song—revealing a rich and layered world of sound, light, and sovereign creativity.  

On her new album Theory of Ice Simpson takes seven of her poems about water and our multiple relationships with the most important compound and element of life, adding simple textured instrumentation and spoken vocal melodies; she lets the music breathe in a way reminiscent of PJ Harvey’s more minimal work.

The eighth track on the album and new on this week’s playlist, is a cover of  “I Pity the Country,” a song written in 1973 by Willie Dunn, a mixed Mi’kmaq and Scottish/Irish singer born in Montreal who wrote about the colonial oppression of indigenous people in Canada. 

Almost fifty years later Simpson’s cover reminds us of the ongoing struggles of North America’s indigenous peoples, and encourages us to look at the current climate of xenophobia and hate crimes against brown and Asian Americans. “I pity the country, I pity the state, and the mind of a man who thrives on hate.”

For fans of: John Trudell, Lael Neale, PJ Harvey.

Photo by Aaron Mason.

Gang of Four: To Hell With Poverty

Although various incarnations of Gang of Four made albums and toured up until guitarist Andy Gill’s death in 2020, they undoubtedly did their best work between 1977 and 1981; producing music that people still talk about and pay attention to. The band’s OG lineup of Gill, along with singer Jon King, Drummer Hugo Burnham and Dave Allen on bass, released their first EP Damaged Goods in 1978, followed by their debut album Entertainment! in 1979, to a Britain that was a far cry from its colonial glories.

From the new collection’s liner notes: 
“The nation is broke. 1.5 million people are out of work, doubling to 3 million by 1982. Inflation jumps from 8 to 18% over the same period; income tax and social security take 40% from low waged, rising to 90% for higher earners. Massive industrial conflict during 78-79’s ‘Winter of Discontent’ sees garbage piled high in city centres; grave-diggers down shovels, leading one local authority to consider burials at sea to cope with the backlog of corpses. Striking lorry drivers hold up essential supplies; salt, sugar, and dairy products are rationed in shops, and animals starve on farms. The blockade of the city of Hull is so complete, it’s dubbed ‘Stalingrad’. NHS nurses in over a thousand hospitals will only treat emergencies. Thatcher’s hard-right government is set on crushing the organised working class, especially the National Union of Mineworkers. The government plans to declare a State of Emergency; and ultra-right elements within British Intelligence later claim to have plotted a coup d’état. With civil war in Northern Ireland, and bombings across the UK, British army counter-insurgency teams wage a secret war against the IRA, including assassination.” 

Quite a backdrop, eh? Gang of Four had formed in the shadows of Punk, but were not a punk band. Their musical influences were bands like Dr. Feelgood, Free, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, as well as Hendrix, a little funk, a dollop of dub, even disco. The music was propelled by the Burnham/Allen rhythm section that gave a platform for Gill’s slashing Stratocaster and King’s caustic vocals As for the politics of the band, Jon King has said that an important influence was Situationism. “This was a political philosophy that said society was based on people becoming commodities and being unable to make worthwhile decisions about their own lives. The idea that we are sometimes like actors in a strange charade.” English journalist Paul Morley’s described them thus: “The Gang spliced the ferocious precision of Dr. Feelgood‘s working-class blues with the testing avant-garde intrigue of Henry Cow. Wilfully avoiding structural obviousness, melodic prettiness and harmonic corniness, the Gang’s music was studded with awkward holes and sharp corners.”

 The new lovingly crafted box set Gang of Four 77-81 includes notes from famous fans like Michael Stipe and Peter Buck (REM), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Henry Rollins, a whole bunch of early press and photos. The remastered albums Entertainment! and Solid Gold, the singles, a live recording of the band at San Francisco’s American Indian center from 1980, (originally broadcast by UC Berkley college station KALX) plus a C90 cassette of previously unreleased rehearsal and out-take recordings. 

Non LP single “To Hell With Poverty” is quite literally one of my favorite songs ever; Hugo Burnham describes it as the song that most captured their live sound and energy. It’s a killer track that punches hard and is just as aggressive as anything else the band recorded during this period, but at its heart it’s a dance song! As for the lyrics, who can argue with “get(ting) drunk on cheap wine” as a temporary reprieve from Nazis and rampant capitalism. I’ve included the remastered version on this week’s playlist and if you’re new to Gof4, I implore you to check out the rest of the collection wherever you buy or listen to music.

For fans of: Killing Joke, The Replacements, Orange Juice, Televison.

Meet The Scientists,
The Artists,
Community Leaders,
The Chefs,
The Educators,
The Investors
and The Innovators
Who are Spark.

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Meet The Scientists, The Artists, Community Leaders, The Chefs, The Educators, The Investors and The Innovators Who are Spark.